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Is This a Cheaper Way to Do Medical Imaging?

MIT researchers used sophisticated mathematical equations to turn an off-the-shelf depth sensor, such as a Microsoft Kinect, into an biomedical imaging tool.

Nancy Crotti

MIT Cheap Flouresence Imaging
These images depicts the phase information contained in six of the 50 light frequencies the MIT biomedical imaging system analyzes. (Image courtesy of MIT)

A team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers has come up with a way to do medical imaging for much less money than current technology costs.

The researchers employed a series of sophisticated mathematical equations to break down and measure the light signals emitted by a fluoroscopic object that's been struck by light from a depth sensor, such as a Microsoft Kinect. Their work shows that detecting a malignant tumor can cost little more than the price of a $100 Kinect, rather than the thousands of dollars it can cost to purchase laboratory equipment that does the same thing, according to a statement from MIT.

The system uses a technique called fluorescence lifetime imaging, which has applications in DNA sequencing and cancer diagnosis, among other things.

The researchers replaced the electronic and optical precision of a microscope with sophistication in mathematical modeling, explained Ayush Bhandari, a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab and lead author of a paper on the research, recently published in the journal Optica.

"What we're trying to do is recreate a model of how the light is being sent back and we use some mathematical procedures to discern what the (fluorescence) lifetime could be," Bhandari said.

Kinect has been hacked for an array of medical applications since it was introduced in 2011.

The light bursts from a Kinect-like sensor last longer than those from traditional fluoroscopy - tens of nanoseconds versus nanoseconds - leading to blurry images. So the team broke down the Kinect signals into their constituent frequencies and measured the difference in phase between the emitted signal and the returning signal. In fluorescence imaging, phase shift carries information about the fluorescence lifetime.

The researchers' system takes the measurements of incoming light and fits them to a mathematical model of the overlapping intensity profiles of both reflected and re-emitted light, calculating the distance between the emitter and the biological sample. So, unlike conventional fluorescence lifetime imaging, the researchers' approach doesn't require distance calibration. That can save time and money, according to Bhandari.

The team, which includes assistant professor of media arts and sciences Ramesh Raskar and research scientist Christopher Barsi, would like to use the method for diagnostic purposes, he added. "It's kind of far away right now, but it's definitely in the horizon of our goals."

Learn more about cutting-edge medical devices at BIOMEDevice San Jose, December 2-3.

Nancy Crotti is a contributor to Qmed and MPMN.

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